The New College Curriculum Engagements

Taught by the College Fellows, the Engagements describe distinct ways of apprehending the world. Each concerns the capacity to pose particular types of questions. Central to any liberally educated person, they are intellectual arts of knowing, doing, and reasoning, not simply competencies or skills that can be mastered. Engagement courses provide students with an inquiry-based framework for critically reflecting on the knowledge they will acquire in college, the literacies they are asked to master, and the application of these knowledge and skills in their future lives of purposeful vocation as engaged citizen-intellectuals.

The Engagement courses are the highlight of the New College Curriculum that offer a seminal experience for first-year students in the College. 

Classes emphasize group work and discussion in a seminar-like environment, where they engage with big questions and challenges with the College Fellows, some of UVA’s best faculty.

Students will take 8 credits worth of engagements courses in their first year, 4 in each semester.

Engagement courses are offered in two formats: 2-credit, half-semester courses are offered that cover a single Engagement, or 4-credit, full-semester courses are offered that cover two different Engagements. See the course catalog in SIS for exact details.

Students will attend a lecture series at the Paramount with leading thinkers and scholars relevant to their current Engagement, that will then be used for class discussion.

Students in the New College Curriculum will also engage with a shared text prior to arriving at UVA. This Summer Reading will be provided to students free of charge and will serve as a touchstone for many of our conversations across the first-year.

A general education should help you explore our world through the lens of human creativity in its many forms. In their shaping of materials, language, space, and sound, artists, architects, writers, and composers reinterpret the world, showing us vital ways of thinking about our present, our past, and the natural world. We will explore how their work provokes our most visceral emotional responses and invites engaged intellectual reflection and interpretation. Engaging Aesthetics courses will help you:

  • Think critically about the nature of art and artistry;

  • Describe and analyze aesthetic experiences and objects;

  • Reflect on the historical, geographical, and cultural differences that shape human responses to aesthetic experience;

  • Take stock of the moral and ethical capacities of the arts at moments of social, political, and environmental crisis.


  • EGMT 1510/1530: New Media Art in the Age of Global Networks


    Ted Coffey

    EGMT 1510/1530: New Media Art in the Age of Global Networks

    If art has always had a role to play in mediating relationships between human beings, what artistic and social possibilities are emerging with the new media in the mix — from internet art and interactive sound art, to fully immersive virtual realities and AI’s that dream? Do computer technologies and global networks promote the democratization of artistic production, distribution, and reception? Or do they reinforce or even amplify imbalances of power and of access to resources that already exist? Do present-day configurations of art, technology, and media culture allow us to gain empathy for and insight into the experiences of different people and communities? Or do they obscure differences by requiring us to conform to the logics of our tools and techniques? Do computers expand creative possibilities and transform what's possible in art? Or do they, instead, undermine the artist's imagination, originality, and artistry? After all, how do computers change art-making?

    In this course, we will explore these questions and others through encounters with a variety of new media artworks and practices, made by people working in a variety of different cultures and social situations. We will use new media as a way to respond to course content — and to make new, propositional works.

  • EGMT 1510: Beauty and Math in the Cosmos


    Kelsey Johnson

    EGMT 1510: Beauty and Math in the Cosmos

    Patterns, symmetry, and harmonics are mathematical principles that are found throughout the natural world, from leaves on trees, to galaxies in the universe. In this course students will explore the deep intertwining of fundamental math and geometries found in nature. Students will investigate how their sense of aesthetics is influenced by these mathematical principles, and learn to identify mathematical components in their own aesthetic judgment. We will examine how one’s environment might impact their perception of beauty in the natural world. Students will also consider the extent to which these mathematical principles have been represented in art from different cultures, ranging from Islamic architecture to Surrealism, thereby questioning whether math is a “universal” language. Throughout the course, students will create a portfolio of their own art based on mathematical principles, culminating in a class art show.  

  • EGMT 1510: Extinction in Art and Literature


    Adrienne Ghaly

    EGMT 1510: Extinction in Art and Literature

    Scientists recently designated the contemporary era as the sixth age of mass extinction, and the first in which humanity has played the primary role. This course explores how man-made, or anthropogenic, extinction is being conceptualized and represented in literature, visual art and other cultural artifacts. We’ll explore how writers and artists think about and with the idea of our age of extinction as an urgent conceptual, representational and ethical problem, and the modes and media they use. Aesthetic approaches to this environmental crisis implicitly or explicitly force us to address the question of the ethical possibilities of the arts and encourage us to rethink what ethical engagement might look like across longer timescales and global networks of action.

                We’ll address one of the most pressing global issues of our time through the close analysis of literary texts, visual art, data visualizations, audio recordings, photojournalism and film that try to give a shape to a process that is not always visible, immediately experienced, or easily apprehended. We will ask how extinction has been imagined, through what forms and aesthetic expressions, and to what uses it has been put. What kinds of historical narratives and innovative visualizations emerge from efforts to imagine extinction? What aesthetic strategies do writers and artists use to conceptualize the idea of extinction within and alongside other historical, cultural and scientific processes – imperial expansion and colonization, conflict, fantasies of lost worlds, “deep” time, re-wilding, and so-called “de-extinction,” the resurrection of species?

  • EGMT 1510: Immortality - A User's Guide

    Chip Tucker

    Chip Tucker

    EGMT 1510: Immortality - A User's Guide

    Shall we live forever?  Why not?  While ours is the species that knows it must die – or because of that brute fact – humankind has a long, broad tradition of indulging immortal longings by imagining a life beyond this one.  The gods live forever, we say, or the soul does, or the durable productions of culture and art do.  The return of our mortal remains to the planet’s biomass may represent a mode of ecological life after death; so may the survival into posterity of our selfish genes.  The recent proliferation of photographic and phonographic modes, and the contemporary possibility of perennial cryogenic storage, have in modern times afforded new versions of technological afterlife.  Meanwhile, religion and art continue to rehearse what might be called the eternity of the now, through ritual and aesthetic patterns that step not outside mortal time but right inside it.  After comparing imaginations of immortality that are found in cultural practices both secular and devout, we’ll focus on a set of aesthetic versions drawn from poetry, painting, science-fiction, and cinema.  Our survey will dwell on the challenge of describing immortality in mortal human terms.  Our abiding questions will be on one hand whether immortality is something we really want after all, and on the other hand whether it’s something we can ever quite live without.

  • EGMT 1510: Sounds of Resistance


    Liza Flood

    EGMT 1510: Sounds of Resistance

    This class explores the aesthetics of resistance in social and political life, emphasizing sound. We will rely on a broad understanding of “resistance,” from street protests to campaign theme songs to Super Bowl performances. Likewise, “sound” will refer primarily to music, but will also include other audible outputs of voices, bodies, and environments. Students will consider how sounds can straddle and influence the intimately connected domains of the aesthetic and the sociopolitical. We will ponder questions such as: how does sound mean? Is sound capable of provoking social change? How do people draw on their own experiences to interpret what they hear? How can the same song or sound inspire some to love and others to hate? Can sound be used as a weapon? How can sound foster inclusivity or exclusivity, or allow individuals to heal, motivate, resist, or change?

    We will attend public events in the area to enhance our studies. Importantly, students will examine their own engagements with sonic and musical resistance and will complete self-designed projects that allow them to experiment with sound’s capacities to engage in social action.

  • EGMT 1510: Taking Place


    Alison Levine

    EGMT 1510: Taking Place

    Where do we find art? Where does art find us? To what kinds of real and imagined places does art take us? How does it make us think and feel? Is your impression of a new place affected by the art you find there? Where have you encountered art at UVA and in Charlottesville?

    In this course, we will investigate the relationship between people, places, and art. We will encounter works of visual art that are in place (sculpture and architecture) as well as those that take place in a particular location (photography, film). These works are all located at UVA or in Charlottesville, but some of them take place elsewhere. They were made by people in a variety of different cultures, social situations, and historical moments. We will explore the locations in which these works are found or take place, the visual forms the artists have chosen, and the debates, conversations and controversies they have provoked. We will also reflect on the influence of digital connectivity on the experience and creation of visual art and our access to it. By critically engaging with a variety of works of art, as well as inhabiting and reflecting on your own creative practice as a “maker”, you will develop a familiarity with a few of the many ways that art and aesthetic experience can locate and mediate humans’ understanding of their place in the world and their experience of it.

  • EGMT 1510: Telling the Truth


    Roberto Armengol

    EGMT 1510: Telling the Truth

    There is no such thing as “Just the facts, Ma’am.” When journalists tell stories, when filmmakers craft documentaries, even when scientists write up lab reports and judges pronounce their decisions — there’s an aesthetic dimension to their work. Telling the truth is intrinsically wrapped up in the art of the telling, just as great fiction, conversely, conveys some deeper truth about life. Documenting facts in any genre or style carries with it a sense of drama: the composer structures a narrative, selects what to say, gives the facts coherence, builds them up around an argument (sometimes implicit), and attempts to touch her audience in some way. At the same time, claiming to tell the truth bestows added authority on the drama and extra responsibility on its author. Whether the story is told in images, words, music, voice or film, the facts must always be reconciled with the art, and the art with the facts. Why is this so? And does this mean that telling the truth is hopelessly relative, subjective, manipulative? In this course, we’ll look at the interplay of truth and beauty in works of nonfiction —documentary storytelling. We’ll debate the norms and conventions of different forms of such work. And we’ll discuss the complicated role that the “art of facts” plays in helping people grasp reality. Your assignments will involve making your own miniature documentary in one or another genre, and engaging with one another’s work in the spirit of collaborative creativity. Our “storytelling cooperative” places you in artistic fellowships where you’ll experiment with a particular medium. You and your fellow artists will workshop narratives of your own, produce a draft story, and then reflect on your composition. This effort invites you to think about how a sense of narrative honesty and a knack for storytelling together can enrich your life experiences.

  • EGMT 1510: The Aesthetics of Trauma


    Hanadi Al-Samman

    EGMT 1510: The Aesthetics of Trauma

    What is the difference between the beautiful and the grotesque? What is the gravitational pull of the iconic Vietnamese “Napalm Girl” 1972 picture and the drowned Syrian refugee boy’s picture on the shores of Turkey in 2015? How does art allow us to grapple with trauma? What jarring or therapeutic effects can one extract from traumatic recollection and expression? How Can individual and collective trauma intertwine to create a narrative witnessing, and an everlasting artistic and national remembrance?

    This course will explore the artistic and ethical engagements of traumatic recall and expression. It will address the moral capacities of art at times of national and cultural crisis. We will cover the various ways in which certain groups have grappled with catastrophic events such as: slavery, genocide, holocaust, Nakba, Maffa, and the unfortunate aftermath of the Arab Spring. In particular, we will evaluate the effectiveness of art installations, interactive drama, digital music, films, and literature in covering the tragic outcome of the Syrian revolution, its toll in terms of lost lives and refugee world crises. We will explore art’s potential to provide healing and activism despite utter loss.

  • EGMT 1510: The Lives of Everyday Objects


    Adrienne Ghaly

    EGMT 1510: The Lives of Everyday Objects

    The Lives of Everyday Objects: Material Culture and What Your Stuff Means

    What are the hidden stories of your stuff? Pens, stockings, wrist watches, your rubber duck. From Marx’s idea of the commodity fetish as governing modern life and Sherlock Holmes’s uncanny ability to analyze the cultural markers of the things worn and carried by his suspects, to the shock of Tracey Emin’s late twentieth-century art installation My Bed and the webs of globalization in which everyday objects are embedded, how do we think about everyday objects, and how can literature and art help us think about them? We will look at the objects around us through a variety of aesthetic expressions in art, advertising and literature. This course will introduce students to key critical concepts of material culture and explore these ideas through aesthetic representations of the world immediately around us. How are you linked to the world through what you wear, the things you carry, the material residue or debris you leave behind? What social meanings, cultural values and emotional values do we invest in them?

  • EGMT 1510: The Politics of Popular Music


    Josh Mound

    EGMT 1510: The Politics of Popular Music

    Why did it take a white artist like Elvis covering a song like “Hound Dog” to make it a hit, and why did his performance of the song on television ignite such controversy? Who decided holding a “Disco Demolition Night” between the two halves of a 1979 Chicago White Sox/Detroit Tigers doubleheader was a good promotional idea, and why did it turn into a riot? What made Ronald Reagan praise Bruce Springsteen at a 1984 campaign stop, and why did Springsteen tell a concert audience two days later that Reagan must not have understood his songs? Why did a conservative pundit dismiss Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” as “paranoi[d]…Millennial groupthink,” and what does that reaction have to do with the song and its video’s content? The answers to these questions tell us that popular music is more than just a collection of artistic works and cultural commodities. In “The Politics of Pop Music,” you will examine pop music as an art form, a social movement, and a business. In doing so, you will consider how and what studying aesthetic products such as pop songs, albums, videos, and performances can tell us about the historical moment in which they were created and, in turn, the world they helped create.

  • EGMT 1510: What is Noise?

    Bonnie Gordon

    Bonnie Gordon

    EGMT 1510: What is Noise?

    What is Noise? Who gets to make noise and who gets punished for making it?  What are some sites of Noise in Charlottesville today? What are the differences between sound, noise, and music?  How has the concept of noise changed through history? What for example was the loudest sound imaginable in 1607, when settlers came to Jamestown? How do birds respond to car alarms?  This class engages aesthetics through the concept of noise.  We will use the idea of noise to ask questions about aesthetics and difference. We will think about the ways that our positions as listeners effect our ability to move through the world. We will listen to noise as it relates to power, economics, the environment, love, the body, race, gender, and class. in our own city. The class will include a playlist of aural encounters including music, readings from a variety of fields, and hands on noise making activities. Readings will range from primary sources in Special Collections Library, fiction, to acoustics, environmental science, and journalistic accounts of public debates around noise pollution. Through listening, close reading, shared experience, small group work, sound walks and other experiences, this course encourages you to make an unmake your ideas about noise. The course will create a space for students to productively engage others in discussions of aesthetics, creativity, and politics. Finally, we will make some noise!

A general education should help you makes sense of the world by analyzing observable facts. Both within and beyond the university, you will encounter claims about the natural and social worlds and be confronted with situations that require you to evaluate and make decisions based on evidence. We will explore how questions and hypotheses are formulated and evaluated based on evidence. Empirical and Scientific Engagement courses will help you:

  • Develop a framework of knowledge to discern what is empirical in the natural, physical and social worlds;

  • Evaluate empirically supported claims by framing empirical questions and interpreting the claims in the context of new data;

  • Recognize that empirical methods are a crucial component to addressing and answering a broad range of essential questions;

  • Articulate the limitations of using empirical, data based inquiry to describe complex phenomena.


  • EGMT 1520/1540: Engineering Humanity


    Chad Wellmon

    EGMT 1520/1540: Engineering Humanity

    It’s difficult to separate humans from their tools. We eat with them, we communicate with them, we think with them, we worship with them. Our tools and technologies give us insight into but also power over ourselves, others, and the world. And this is both the promise and peril of this most basic of relations, that of humans and their technologies. 

    To what extent do we not only make our technologies but our technologies remake us? In this course, we will consider a spectrum of outlooks: from the claims of techno-utopians anticipating a future in which humans finally merge with their machines to the warnings of technology skeptics fearing a future in which humans finally forego what makes them human. We consider the kinds of empirical and ethical knowledge we need to make sense of these competing visions of how humans relate to their technologies. What kinds of evidence do we need? What are the possibilities and limits of empirical knowledge when reflecting on the reciprocity of humans and their technologies? How do our technologies shape how we relate to ourselves, others, and the world? How do they inform different visions of the good life?

    We’ll consider these big questions by focusing on key empirical and ethical questions surrounding a series of contemporary debates, which could include: genetic engineering, eugenics, human reproduction and cloning, radical life extension and enhancement, biohacking, self-quantification and algorithmic self-hood, and machine learning. In each of these case studies, we’ll be concerned with the core elements of the Empirical as well as the Ethical Engagements.

  • EGMT 1520: Boundaries of Knowledge in the Universe


    Kelsey Johnson

    EGMT 1520: Boundaries of Knowledge in the Universe

    What happens inside black holes? What caused the Big Bang? Are there other dimensions? Despite major technological advances of the last century, we still know shockingly little about the universe in which we live. This Engagements course will explore why we think we know what we do, why we don’t know what we don’t, and the fundamental strengths and limits of empirical inquiry.  The class will be grounded in epistemological understandings of knowledge, and discussions will focus on the borderlands between science, theology, and philosophy.  Throughout the 7 weeks, students will be charged with nurturing their curiosity, and challenged to ask meaningful questions. 

  • EGMT 1520: Doing Fieldwork


    Roberto Armengol

    EGMT 1520: Doing Fieldwork

    How can scientists study the messiness of real life? What sort of knowledge can we gain outside the traditional laboratory? And how do we analyze data gathered “in the field”? This course invites you to consider these questions while introducing you to the many faces of fieldwork. We’ll look at the principles behind the practice, as well as the array of methods that put those principles to work in any given field setting.

    Although field methods vary across the social and natural sciences, they have some basic things in common: Much (often most) of the evidence fieldworkers collect is qualitative. The field experience is not, strictly speaking, reproducible. And the boundaries of “the field” are always fuzzy. Yet despite these complications, fieldwork remains a vibrant and indispensable way of coming to know and make sense of the world. And while sometimes it might seem as messy as real life itself, it involves thick, systematic observation of a living, breathing community, generally by participating in that community in purposeful ways. Inherently, this calls on researchers to think carefully, holistically and empathetically about their own relationship to the field and about its inhabitants, whether human or nonhuman. The work you do in this course will be deeply collaborative, and will familiarize you with fieldwork not just by reading about it, but by doing some fieldwork of your own.

  • EGMT 1520: Exploring Your Genome

    EGMT 1520: Exploring Your Genome

    What is a genome? What can you do with your genome? How can others use your genome? In this course, you will learn about the human genome, from how it is measured to what information it contains. You will have the opportunity to take a glimpse at your own genetic information and we will discuss the implications of this knowledge. Through this course, you will gain an understanding of the profound role that the human genome plays in your life and your future.

    The Takeaway (what will you know 5 years from now… My hope for students upon completion of this course is the ability to discuss genetic concepts confidently with their colleagues, to know what can and can’t be done with their genetic information especially as reported by the popular press, and to use this information to guide them in making informed decisions in their own lives in years to come. And along the way, you will become empirically engaged.

    Our objectives this semester... By the end of this course, you will have glimpsed at the foundation of life and you will:

    • Be able to describe and discuss the human genome and its utility in medicine and life
    • Become curious about the ways in which you and others can use your genome
    • Gain skills that will allow you to think about and interpret genetic data
    • Help others better understand the use of genetic information in their future

  • EGMT 1520: Genetics: Solutions for Life!?


    Claire Cronmiller

    EGMT 1520: Genetics: Solutions for Life!?

    How can we cure sickle cell disease?  Why don’t snakes have legs?  How do we make a seedless (insert your favorite fruit or vegetable here)?  How do we bypass egg allergies by genetically modifying chickens?  What contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire?  Was Thomas Jefferson the father of Sally Hemings’s children?  Is violent behavior a genetic disease?  Can we cure (insert disease of interest here) through gene therapy?

    These are all analytical questions/problems that have been addressed through genetic/DNA analysis.  We’ll use examples like these to explore how our increasingly sophisticated understanding of genomes and the genetic basis of life can be used to approach a wide variety of puzzles or problems.  In each case, we’ll examine how investigators framed a specific scientific question, what analytical approach was designed to address that question, what results were produced by the analyses, and what conclusions could be drawn from those results.  Wherever possible, we’ll consider any related ethical dilemmas that continue to arise, as our rapidly expanding genetic knowledge impacts both individuals and society.  And, best of all:  You’ll learn some genetics along the way!

  • EGMT 1520: How Has Evolution Shaped Who We Are?


    Debbie Roach

    EGMT 1520: How Has Evolution Shaped Who We Are?

    All humans are 99.5% genetically similar to any other human yet there is tremendous variation among us.  Why is there variation in skin color?  Why do most of us suffer from altitude sickness but there are people in the Andes and the Himalayas who live at extreme elevations?  How does malaria explain why, for over 30 years, all the finalists in the men’s Olympic 100-meters had a recent ancestry in Sub-Saharan West Africa?  To understand variation we need to understand how evolution has shaped us and how the environment has influenced our evolution.

    We will use empirical approaches to understand patterns of variation in appearance, in physiology, and in (athletic) performance among individuals across the world.  The questions that we will address are important, not only to understand diversity among individuals, but also because the foundational approaches that you will develop in this class will provide you with skills to understand how science is done.  You will learn to think like a scientist and to interpret data.  In the future when you read in the New York Times about the latest discoveries, you will be able put these discoveries into context and make your own evaluation about the validity of new findings

  • EGMT 1520: Life On the Move


    Dorothy Schafer

    EGMT 1520: Life On the Move

    We cannot work or play, fight or express love without an accompanying movement, however subtle, somewhere in the body.  But does movement accomplish more than just getting from one place to another?  Will running nurture resilience?  Can we dance our way around chronic diseases?  Do big biceps lead to bigger brains?  Did humans evolve to run?  What are the consequences of a sedentary lifestyle?  Should couch potatoes take “exercise” pills?  We will address questions like these by applying empirical approaches to explore the scope and scale of nature’s movements -- from the tiny trajectories of molecules and cells to the global migrations of animals and people.  By observing and measuring your own patterns of movement, you will also learn to think like a scientist and to consider the limitations of empirical approaches.  By hypothesizing how novel types of movement might occur and how you might test your ideas, you will come to appreciate that discovery about the unknown is a creative process limited only by an infinite imagination.

  • EGMT 1520: Making Truth Claims - The Power & Limits of Empirical Reasoning


    Sarah Corse

    EGMT 1520: Making Truth Claims - The Power & Limits of Empirical Reasoning

    What makes a truth claim powerful and persuasive? In our everyday lives, most of us rely on at least some version of empirical reasoning to advance our own truth claims and assess others. For example, a person might say “Everyone is either male or female” because that person has never met anyone who isn’t and so s/he imagines the world is fully represented by male and female people. However, someone with different experience may assess this claim as ridiculous and obviously untrue. This is an example of rudimentary empirical reasoning – we have an idea of how things work in our heads and we check it against the “real world.” This is a central tenet of the scientific method – we test our theories against empirical data to see if they are supported. But we all know examples of “bad” science, or disputed “facts,” or questions that empirical data don’t seem to help answer. In this course, we will think about the process and evaluation of empirical observations and scientific reasoning. Through activities and discussion students will grapple with question such as:  What are the strengths of these knowledge systems and what might undermine them or make them less relevant? How do we turn the “real world” into data and what problems does that cause? What are the similarities and differences in empirical reasoning about the natural world and the social world?

  • EGMT 1520: Poverty Counts

    EGMT 1520: Poverty Counts

    The United States' definition of "poverty" dates to 1963, when Social Security administration economist Mollie Orshansky used the Department of Agriculture's "Thrifty Food Plan" to calculate the amount of economic deprivation in the U.S. But Orshansky never intended for her calculation to become the official poverty line, and it's been challenged by critics on the left and the right ever since. Orshansky's calculation has persisted, however, because (re)defining poverty is both complex and controversial. Like categories such as "race" and "disability," poverty is a socially constructed concept. When we say someone is "poor," what do we mean? Do we mean that his or her income falls below an absolute threshold (a dollar amount) or a relative one (such as a percentage of the median income)? Moreover, what do we mean by "income"? Should we even define poverty in material terms? In answering these questions and related ones, this course will ask you to consider the theoretical and empirical issues involved in operationalizing socially constructed concepts such as poverty. Through critical engagement with the interdisciplinary poverty literature, both qualitative and quantitative, and hands-on research, you will gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of carrying out empirical social science.

  • EGMT 1520: Thinking Like a Scientist


    Jamie Morris

    EGMT 1520: Thinking Like a Scientist

    This course is concerned with how we acquire and use knowledge about the world to organize our thoughts and beliefs about complexities in nature. We will consider the many routes of knowledge acquisition and formulate a specific framework by which we may test the veracity of acquired knowledge. The course will consider foundational ideas in the history and philosophy of science, but aim to move beyond the philosophical to provide concrete examples of empiricism in our natural and social worlds. Students will share the challenge of discovering how strong beliefs are not always empirically justified and how our own morals, values and prior experiences may blind us to available evidence. Beyond recognition of the principles of science and articulation of the limitations of empirical approaches, we will develop strategies for evaluation and testing of important claims.

  • EGMT 1520: Thrifting: A Case Study for Empirical Inquiry


    Gertrude Fraser

    EGMT 1520: Thrifting: A Case Study for Empirical Inquiry

    At semester’s end at any American University peruse the dumpsters, dorm hallways and suite common rooms and you are sure to see mounds of castaway objects, once deemed of highest importance to the life and welfare of it’s owners. Eventually some of these objects, especially clothing, will find their way into a thrift-store, or on-line via second-hand sales or will be remade into new fashionable objects. Who buys and sells second-hand clothes and why? Thrifting may seem a trivial issue but even when they disagree as to its specific functions and meanings, scholars across a range of disciplines agree that it is of  increasing economic, political, cultural and personal importance in contemporary communities in the U.S. and globally. We will use the case study as an empirically grounded approach to investigate the real-world contexts of thrifting. The case study can be a powerful in-depth approach using multiple forms of empirical evidence to research complex issues, objects or activities when the phenomena is not well described and where there are multiple interpretations and points of view. Students will learn about the strengths and limitations of different types of empirical case study designs. They will then design a case study research project, explore related scholarly and popular literature, collect empirical evidence, and interpret their findings about some specific aspect of thrifting. The course will involve the students and professor in exploring how a case study method applied to a specific social practice can be a rich source for empirical inquiry into our social world, how we experience it, how it shapes our cultural identities and how it is structured across local and global sites. 

A general education should help you explore the ways in which people become unlike one another. Both within the university and beyond, you will encounter an ever greater range of forms in which human difference is realized, such as differences of culture, religion, and nationality, as well as those of class race, gender, sexuality, ability, and privilege. We will recognize that these differences are occasions for greater knowledge but also failures to understand one another. Engaging Differences courses will help you:

  • Analyze and evaluate the richness and complexity of variable experiences;
  • Reflect upon the social inequalities historically produced and patterned along some lines of difference;
  • Consider how we encounter one another across social boundaries, perform and express our differences, clash, develop prejudices, and construct forms of discrimination;
  • Understand the need to engage with different lives and cultures in a spirit of a common good to make sense of human experience.


  • EGMT 1530: Debating Islams

    EGMT 1530: Debating Islams

    This Engagement is designed to enhance the understanding of religious diversity and conflict within our global world order. We will examine through the lens of religious difference questions of theology and political ideology, nationalism, and culture and law in Islam and the Muslim world. We will assess together how these categories are constructed in shaping and defining global as well as local religious identity today. The course also will encourage students to develop an awareness and understanding of religious difference and conflict through a series of case studies examining the relationship between Islam and political ideology, the nature of religious difference and violence, and the question of the “clash of civilizations.” Lastly, in terms of this Engagement’s “shared experience,” this course includes the following: A visiting lecture from a policy maker working on the intersection of religion and politics at the U.S. Department of State, particularly with respect to the “Islamic world” and the nature of American foreign policy and public diplomacy; and an on-site visit to the University of Virginia’s Special Collections Library to examine its holdings of religious texts, including manuscripts of polyglot Bibles, Korans, and Thomas Jefferson’s “Bible.”

  • EGMT 1530: Race, Racism, Colony, and Nation


    Lisa Woolfork

    EGMT 1530: Race, Racism, Colony, and Nation

    What do the American Revolution and Black Lives Matter have in common? What happened between the 1776 declaration that “we hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal” and the 1857 Supreme Court ruling that the black man had "no rights which the white man was bound to respect?” In what ways can the 1950s era civil rights slogan, “I Am A Man,” be considered a declaration? What’s required to connect Black Lives Matter protests in Ferguson or Baltimore to colonial resistance to the king sending “swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance?”[1]


    As a component of a series of scholarly engagements, this course is committed to cultivating an approach to human differences that can serve as a basis for critical inquiry and civic participation. This course is concerned with the ways in which racial differences shape American history, life, and culture.  In particular, we will frame our questions using the metaphor of the colony and the nation. The prevailing story of America is one of transformation from a colony into one nation, as its people transformed from subjects to citizens. Yet, the transformative properties of American democracy were racially precise: white freedom co-existing with/based upon black subjection. How does racial difference inform our view of America today? How might the American Revolution be considered incomplete? What aspects of our racial divide can be explained by the colony versus nation metaphor? How did/do ethics, science, media and creative expression reflect the idea that our nation is not so “indivisible” after all?


    These are the type of questions and conflicts that interest this course. Through close reading, shared experience, small group work, and other assignments, this course encourages you to craft, share, and discard your interpretations of the ever-growing collection of cultural narratives and social experiences marked by white supremacy, racial difference and/or bias.

    [1] The Declaration of Independence.

  • EGMT 1530: Real or Fake? The Politics of Authenticity


    Sylvia Chong

    EGMT 1530: Real or Fake? The Politics of Authenticity

    Why do we say that “real men don’t cry” or that “real women have curves”? Who gets to cook pho and tacos, and who gets to eat them? What does it mean to be called, or even to call yourself, black or white or Asian or Latinx or Native American? Does shopping at Wal-Mart make you working class, or wearing Prada make you upper class? Can one change one’s racial, gender, or class identity, or are such identities given by birth? And can sexuality, religion, or disability be identities, since many people may change their sexual orientation, religious affiliation, or disability status over time? Who gets to police these identities? And what is at stake in these battles—what do we win (or lose) in deciding who is “real” and who is “fake”? This course will explore these questions by investigating various controversies involving authenticity and identity politics. We will draw our examples from law, politics, music, food, cinema, sports, literature, and other realms of U.S. culture and society from the 19th to the 21st centuries.

  • EGMT 1530: The Individual and Society

    College Fellows

    Tico Braun

    EGMT 1530: The Individual and Society

    In this course we ask big questions, perhaps among the biggest.  Who am I?  How do I come to be who I am?  How do I know myself?  Can I know myself?  What makes me who I am?  Am I responsible for my own life?  What are my relationships to others?  What are my relationships to my society (societies)?  What are my rights?  What are my obligations?  Does who I am in private say more about me than what I do in public? Can I live a moral life surrounded by immorality?   Should there be a safety net in a society of individuals? If we are indeed individuals, or can be, how do we forge our lives, in our interests and in those of others, toward the public good?

    This course considers these big questions in order to help us better understand the richness and complexity of individuals and communities. We will reflect on the historical impacts of society on individuals and consider how individuals begin to form societies – or even more important, communities. In particular, we will consider how we as individuals encounter one another in our differences  and what it might mean to pursue a common good.

  • EGMT 1530: Unnatural

    Karl Shuve

    Karl Shuve

    EGMT 1530: Unnatural

    “That’s unnatural.” These words convey a judgment of a practice, a state of being, or a social arrangement; we hear them often, and likely even use them ourselves. To call something unnatural is to suggest that it is out of keeping with the natural of order of things and the way they ought to be. To render this judgment is to imply that no further debate, discussion, or argument is needed, because we take for granted that what is unnatural is to be avoided and rejected. Who can argue with biology or nature?

    But what, exactly, is nature? On what basis do we evaluate whether something is natural or unnatural? Who gets to decide? And why do we consider this an important distinction to make? In this seminar, we will examine these questions as we work towards untangling how the concepts of “natural” and “unnatural” function in our society—and how they might function differently in other times and places. Our goal will be to denaturalize our understanding of nature. We will analyze how the naming of people, practices, and institutions as “unnatural” works to create and perpetuate various forms of difference and inequality in society, along the lines of gender, sexuality, race, class, the environment, and other categories. We will also examine how the concept of nature has been used in attempts to overcome inequality, specifically through the discourse of natural rights, and what are the possibilities and pitfalls of such approaches. This course encourages students to observe the world around them carefully and critically, so that they can be aware of and capable of responding to the ideologies that underlie their everyday experiences.

  • EGMT 1530: Visions of the Future - Where's the Difference? Where's the Good?


    Brandy Daniels

    EGMT 1530: Visions of the Future - Where's the Difference? Where's the Good?

    What role should difference play in society? How should relations among men and women, rich and poor, citizen and alien be organized for the benefit of all? What kind of political system would guarantee peace, prosperity and plenty for all people? In what kind of society would “different” individuals find fulfillment? Should a society privilege concern for the collective or for the individual? How does difference function in a good society?

    Visions of the future make claims about precisely these kinds of questions. They also tell us something about the present. Whether the visions are of radically better (utopic) or worse (dystopic) worlds, we catch a glimpse of what the constructors of such visions are unsatisfied with about the way the world is now and their desires and hopes of what could be. Significantly, as the above questions highlight, many of these visions of the future have a lot to say about what kind of good difference is and what it means to live well together amidst our differences, and in doing so offer some powerful commentary on the ways we do and do not understand and attend to difference here in our present time and place.  

    How does vicarously experiencing these visions of radically better or worse imaginary worlds as they’re presented in film, literature, and social experiments, then, shape our perceptions of the past, present, and future—of what is and what could be? How do different visions of the future shape our perspectives around difference, and how might closely examining these visions help us better understand, reflect upon, and grapple with ethical and social frameworks and questions around our differences?

    In this course, we will examine and judge the answers provided by a range of utopic and dystopic visions of the future. In doing so, we will explore the complexities of ethical and political reflection on difference and the pursuit of the good amidst that difference—what kind of society do we want to create? What kind of life do we want for ourselves? How do we get there? Can we get there? Why haven’t we gotten there yet? In exploring, evaluating, and engaging with visions of the future as a lens of and for difference, we will explore the richness and complexity of the variability of human experience, reflect on the social inequities produced and patterned across lines of difference, and critically and constructively explore what it might mean to engage difference ethically in the present in light of the past and the potential futures in front of us.

  • EGMT 1530: What is Inequality and Why Should We Worry About It?


    Robert Fatton

    EGMT 1530: What is Inequality and Why Should We Worry About It?

    This Engagement course is designed to explore how economic inequalities shape human differences and social conflicts nationally and globally, and whether they are compatible with the common good and democratic rule. According to Oxfam “almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one percent of the population” and the wealth of that one percent totals approximately $110 trillion, which in turn amounts to “65 times the total wealth of the bottom half of the world’s population.”  Are these disparities so extreme, and the lives of the haves versus the have-nots so fundamentally different, that it becomes a stretch to speak of a common humanity?  Do income and wealth inequalities exacerbate other types of inequalities based on gender and race, and how do they affect human health and dignity?  Are they an invitation to new forms of authoritarianism and a world of violent conflicts?  Or, are current levels of inequality the just and legitimate rewards for entrepreneurial, innovating, and risk-taking behavior? In short, are economic disparities the logical and inevitable consequence of the contradictory processes of wealth creation and poverty reduction, and are they justifiable and ultimately sustainable?

    Students will explore these questions by investigating various controversies involving the nature, and potential costs or benefits of inequalities. We will draw our examples from the experiences of both the advanced industrialized nations and the “global south.”  We will also examine what analytical approaches scholars have used to study the social, economic, and political consequences of inequalities. 

A general education should help you reflect upon and deliberate about your lives as ethical agents both within the University of Virginia community and beyond college. Engagement with ethical questions––questions of justice, liberty, equality, democracy, injustice, rights etc.––is inevitable, inasmuch as avoiding or ignoring conflict and controversy is itself an ethical decision. And consider how to integrate ethical reflection and practice while acknowledging that some differences on ethical questions are irreconcilable. Ethical Engagement Courses will help you:

  • Reflect upon ethical traditions, your own and those of others;
  • Grapple with the contingent and historically-rooted character of ethical action;
  • Pose, evaluate and respond to ethical questions;
  • Recognize yourselves as ethical agents within communities and the broader world.


  • EGMT 1540: Can a Text Be Ethical?


    Janet Spittler

    EGMT 1540: Can a Text Be Ethical?

    The reliance on texts for ethical guidance is a widespread human phenomenon.  From the Code of Hammurabi to UVa’s Honor Code, texts have been used both to dictate what is right and wrong and to inspire individuals to seek out and enact the good. In this course, we will examine the use of written documents in determining what is ethical through case studies involving just one example: the New Testament.  We will examine four specific moments in history in which the New Testament played a primary role in ethical decision-making, asking in each instance the following questions:


    • Did the multiple individuals involved agree about the text’s interpretation? If not, how did the disagreement play out? Did a particular interpretation “win”? Was that, in your opinion, the “correct” interpretation?
    • Why did the text play a role? Did the text have the same authoritative and/or ethical status to everyone involved?
    • Was the outcome actually ethical?  Did the text lead, in your opinion, to ethical actions?

    Our investigations of these historical moments will inform reflection on ourselves as ethical agents. To what extent have texts guided our actions in the past? Are there texts that we find ethically authoritative and/or helpful? As we inevitably face moments where we must make ethical decisions, what role, if any, will such texts play? What lessons can we learn from the roles texts have played in the past?

  • EGMT 1540: Does Reading Literature Make Us More Ethical? Really?


    Adrienne Ghaly

    EGMT 1540: Does Reading Literature Make Us More Ethical? Really?

    Does reading literature increase empathy for others, and, if so, are there limits to empathy? Does it provide models for human flourishing? Make us inhabit modes of life different from our own? If so, does that lead to different action in the world? And how durable are its effects? From antiquity onwards it has often been claimed that literature can have an ethical effect upon the reader; in short, that literary works can change us for the better, influence our sense of our obligations to others, even alter our behaviors and be a powerful driver of social change. We’ll explore the historical and cultural conditions that comprise our individual moral particularity and ask to what extent that particularity is malleable. And we’ll consider arguments about how literary works afford explorations of our obligations to others in ways that non-literary modes cannot, looking at how diverse thinkers have argued for – and against – links between ethics and literature and reading literature as a public good.

    In this class we’ll be exploring these questions in depth in the context of the current global refugee crisis, examining a diverse set of ethical commitments both within literary works and in arguments about them, and considering these arguments in their potential application to an urgent contemporary issue. We will ask what kinds of ethical commitments those might be, and whether and how they may transfer from the page to the life beyond it. To do so, we will be running the class as a lab space for a collaborative investigation into the possible uses – and, perhaps, limits – of literature for humanitarian advocacy. The culmination of the course will be the collaborative creation of materials for the United Nations with recommendations for the incorporation of literature into UNOCHA’s refugee advocacy campaign and a student-created portfolio of suggested reading materials with accompanying critical tools and apparatus.

  • EGMT 1540: How Do We Become Who We Are?


    Brandy Daniels

    EGMT 1540: How Do We Become Who We Are?

    "Now let’s get in formation!” While the command Beyoncé sings in the title track of her 2015 album Formation is at its most basic level an instruction to her dancers to get ready to perform, it is also something more than that. Throughout the song, Beyoncé reflects on how she has come to be who she is—where she comes from and the people that surround her, the work she has put in, and the traits, virtues, and dispositions that have shaped and been shaped by her experiences —as well as about who she is still becoming. Like Beyoncé, this course explores how we become who we are, albeit a bit more analytically and systematically!

    Over the course of seven weeks, we will identify and interrogate the complex, multi-faceted relationships between social contexts and factors, identities, and ethical approaches and actions. What social, cultural, and historical factors shape us? How do these factors shape us— how do they impact how we relate to others, what we see as good or successful, the decisions we make and the ways we organize and order and live our lives?  How, then, do we shape the world around us as we’re being shaped by it? Drawing on resources from across the humanities and social sciences, we will reflect on and evaluate meta-ethical theories of identity and formation, ethical inquiries that arise in both theories and processes of formation, and ethical implications and applications of various accounts.

    As one distinctive part of a broader framework of scholarly engagements, this course will aid us in cultivating an approach to ethical reflection and practice that can serve as a basis for critical inquiry and civic participation. Put another way, in asking how we become who we are, this course (and the Engagements program it is a part of) is also saying something about who we could (should?) become and how we might get there. (Given this, we’ll even actually turn to this very course as a site of inquiry! #meta.) In exploring approaches and questions around how we become who we are, through close reading, class discussions, and course assignments, students will reflect critically, constructively, and creatively about who they want to be as individuals and/in community, why, and what the processes of becoming might look like.

  • EGMT 1540: Mortality & Morality - The Ethics of Death

    EGMT 1540: Mortality & Morality - The Ethics of Death

    This course introduces students to modes of ethical inquiry and reflection through an investigation of an issue of universal human concern: death and dying. In the words of Aeschylus’s Agamemnon, “There's nothing certain in a man's life except this: That he must lose it.” Beyond death’s inevitability, its sheer facticity, however, is there anything else to be said about it? Much, indeed. In this course, students will learn to see death and dying as an important lens for understanding morality and ethics, in terms of both individual dilemmas and choices, and social practices and institutions. For as Peter Berger has noted, “Every society is, in the last resort, [human beings] banded together in the face of death.” 

    Over our seven weeks together, students will interrogate, articulate, and critically analyze their fundamental assumptions about the nature of death and human postures toward it. They will investigate individual and social practices of death and mourning. They will consider their beliefs about a “good death” and what it might mean to “die well” in conversation with voices from different eras and perspectives. We will explore specific questions such as: is death really all that bad? (Epicurus didn’t think so). Would personal immortality be preferable? (As it turns out, various religious traditions, philosophers and “transhumanists” disagree). What difference does the knowledge of death have for the living—for how we approach life, build culture, and organize community and institutions? How has the experience of dying changed in the modern age, and how does this affect our understanding of the goals of medicine and the ethics of killing and letting-die? And, how does all of this relate to our everyday lives? How might we deal with loss (if, and when, the time comes)? What will we teach our kids about death (if, and when, the time comes)? Our answers to these questions, students will come to see, reflect deep-seated and often inarticulate beliefs about human nature, moral agency, and the good life.

  • EGMT 1540: Patriotism, Nationalism, and Cosmopolitanism


    Siva Vaidhyanathan

    EGMT 1540: Patriotism, Nationalism, and Cosmopolitanism

    Why do we cheer for our nation of origin during the Olympics and World Cup? What does it mean to make an ethical commitment to your nation or community? What does it mean to make an ethical commitment to the entire world? What should you do if those commitments conflict? How can we defend "human rights" while defending our national interests? Under what conditions is it proper to violate the sovereignty of another nation-state?

    This course will examine the concepts of patriotism, nationalism, and cosmopolitanism and how these ideas intersect. As an ethical engagement course, the goals of the course will include:

    • Reflecting upon ethical traditions, your own and those of others;
    • Grappling with the contingent and historically-rooted character of ethical action; 
    • Posing, evaluating, and responding to ethical questions;
    • Recognizing oneself as an ethical agent within communities and the broader world.

    The course will also have the following, more specific goals:

    • Distinguishing patriotism from nationalism;
    • Identifying and analyzing specific kinds of nationalism – ethnic, religious, political; 
    • Considering the value, purpose, and limitations of patriotism;
    • Considering the value, purpose, and limitations of cosmopolitanism.

  • EGMT 1540: The Ethics of Piracy, from the High Seas to Torrents

    Josh White

    Josh White

    EGMT 1540: The Ethics of Piracy, from the High Seas to Torrents

    “…an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized…when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, ‘What thou meanest by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost it with a great fleet art styled emperor.’”

                                                                                                                —Augustine, City of God

    What is piracy? Can piracy, or theft, ever be ethical? What connects torrent sites like “The Pirate Bay” to the eighteenth-century pirates of the Caribbean or the present-day pirates active off the Horn of Africa and in the Malacca Straits? This course explores the full range of activities that have been described, or denounced, as piracy, from maritime seizures to copyright violations and intellectual property theft, from antiquity to the present day. Whereas some would have (or did) reject the label of pirate, situating their activities within the legal context of warfare and service to faith or state, others have embraced the term—and are celebrated for it in popular culture. Regardless of whether its practitioners have been publicly lauded or criticized, piracy has frequently been deployed in service of empire, whether by England in the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Caribbean or by China in the intellectual property realm in more recent years. The phenomenon of piracy raises questions about who gets to decide what is legal or ethical and whether those are indeed the same thing: Do the ends always justify the means? Who has the jurisdiction to prosecute pirates, and who actually should? If we acquire stolen property, music or movies, are we pirates too?

  • EGMT 1540: What is Authority?

    Isaac Reed

    Isaac Ariail Reed

    EGMT 1540: What is Authority?

    What is authority? Why do we follow the instructions of certain persons and sources (pilots, lifestyle bloggers, WebMD, religious texts)? Merely to question or merely to follow authority does not, on its own, make us good. Rather, to navigate a complex world ethically, we must be able to discern who should be trusted with authority and who should be ignored or resisted, judge which directives for action are good and which are bad, and debate why some statements should be accepted as authoritative and others rejected. Authority, whether respected or reviled, inflects and influences the behaviors, habits and dispositions that constitute a good or successful life.

    In this class we will examine authority as a special kind of human relationship with deep implications for what it means to be a good person. We will read about a wide variety of types of authority—for example, professional, parental, religious, scientific, political—and ask how they interact with each other and change over time. We will study how authority is different from, but often becomes entwined with, power. Finally, we will build a better understanding of the conditions under which people are willing to accept, resist, and/or reformulate authority.

  • EGMT 1540: What is Engaged Citizenship


    Laura Goldblatt

    EGMT 1540: What is Engaged Citizenship

    If citizenship gives us rights, can it also make demands of us? What would it mean to acquiesce to these demands, if so, and what to refuse them? Such questions about the ethics and requirements of engaged citizenship were central to the founding of the University of Virginia and increasingly serve as a rallying cry for the importance of the liberal arts tradition. But what is engaged citizenship and what does it require of us? In this class, we will consider varying frameworks for the ethics of engaged citizenship—education, self-reflection, presence (or showing up)—to struggle with the relationship of the self to society within the University community and beyond. Why do we increasingly know more about certain aspects of our food supply and so little about others? What are the implications of this visibility and invisibility for our behavior towards each other? Does citizenship require us to confront those who we perceive as challenging our values, and, if so, can that ever be anything other than a coercive and oppressive act? Is citizenship a communal agreement or an individual one? Does it bind us together or separate us? When is violence justified, if ever? Under what circumstances should we bend or discard our citizenly duty? Through class excursions, readings, journaling activities, viewings, and course presentations we will experiment with the ethical implications of the various positions we take—including inaction—when we respond to the world around and inside of us.

  • EGMT 1540: What Isn't For Sale? And What Shouldn't Be?


    Rebecca Stangl

    EGMT 1540: What Isn't For Sale? And What Shouldn't Be?

    There are many things in life we value, and which it seems unproblematic to buy or sell: houses, sweaters, and ice cream, for example.  But there are other things we value, which it seems impossible to buy or sell: love, moral goodness, or happiness, for example.  And there are still others which we can buy or sell, but might think we should not: kidneys, sexual or reproductive labor, ideas, or spiritual goods, for example.

    Students in this engagement will consider whether there is anything that it is either impossible or wrong to sell.  We will focus on examples from a wide variety of domains and draw on readings from philosophy, religious studies, and fiction.  Our aim throughout will be to understand more clearly the value of the particular goods in question and the role such goods might play in making our own lives good and meaningful.

  • EGMT 1540: Who Wants to Save the World, and Why? The Ethics of Global Citizenship


    Charles Mathewes

    EGMT 1540: Who Wants to Save the World, and Why? The Ethics of Global Citizenship

    This class seeks to ask one simple question: why do we care about the ethical state of the world?  Once upon a time, people thought about ethics as it pertained primarily to their immediate local context; to be a “good person” meant being “good” relative to those closest to you—family, friends, and neighbors.  Now, people increasingly care about ethics globally, and assume that to be good we must be ethically thoughtful as regards a wide range of global issues.  What does it mean to be a “global citizen”? Why do we increasingly think this way?  What is good about this?  What is bad about it?  And finally, why did this whole issue arise—that is, what makes this question interesting and important to us?

New College Curriculum